HIST 413: An Overview

In the popular imagination, conflict is the one constant to expect of the Middle East. But this expectation is a self-selecting one. The media presents ever more vivid footage each time hostilities break out in actual violence. In between moments of military engagement or terrorist act, the many different parties in the Middle East co-exis—often not happily, and usually with a great many unresolved issues still simmering. Can they get along, though? Such a question lies at the root of any real interest in the problems of the Middle East. This course is not going to pretend to be able to answer that question since such efforts move beyond history.

As a history course, however, it will endeavor to trace the evolution of the Middle East’s many conflicts into the present day. This effort is risky for two primary reasons that students should be aware of—and respect!—from the start. First, this analysis of the past is going to be very present-focused almost from the start, and that stereo effect means that contemporary agendas may often be lurking just underneath a supposedly neutral discussion of “facts.” We must all be aware of how to argue respectfully in a public setting. Second, as this course’s subject material moves closer in time to ourselves, the political sensitivity of the players means that more and more evidence remains closeted from public scrutiny. In short, we need to be nervous and humble as we proceed, realizing that we have limited viewpoints thanks to the rampant secreting away of documents by the governments, individuals, and corporations involved.

Finally, “conflict” is hardly a narrow parameter. It naturally encompasses the many wars that have been a hallmark of the region’s history. But conflict comes in many forms: inter-state and ethnic wars, plus many other intersections as well—generational misunderstandings, religious compunctions, economic stress, gender issues, resource competition, and the list goes on. Moreover, each of these forms often ends up in dangerous combinations with the others.

Course Goals/Objectives

The goals (fruits?) of a history course are as numerous as the books which historians produce. Some have already been hinted at above. At the broadest level, though, historical study encourages and hones critical analysis of the questions which most concern us. And these issues are themselves countless, but in the most generic terms, they mostly center on the relations of people with one another, with themselves, with the natural world and with the supernatural. We will be asking “why?” rather a lot: Why did they think that? Why did they assume such a thing? Even as we ask these questions, others lie implicitly underneath: why do I think what I think? What are my prejudices and assumptions? How does my heritage sway my conclusions?

One of the primary tasks of historians is the weighing of evidence: evaluating why some parts of the factual record appear to have more weight or pertinence than other parts, why we might trust some documents but not others, and how we treat gaps in the evidentiary record. A course such as this will put this skill right to the forefront.

Grading and Assignments

For the academic year 2011–12 and onward, Longwood has adopted a system wherein a letter grade with a + or a - is weighted in the computations of the student’s GPA. Look to my “General Policies” for how I will be assigning such grades from the numerical basis that I use in the course.

Participation:  (10%) Our course will be a mixture of lectures and seminar-style participation. Come to class prepared with that day's readings already digested (i.e., don’t just cast your eyes over the words on the page or screen; think about the implications and issues involved). Be ready to ask questions; be ready to be asked questions. The readings are admittedly heavy at times; prepare yourself accordingly.

The Media in the Middle East: (12%) Pick a week in the semester that suits you for tackling this assignment. For five days, monitor the English language website of al-Jazeera (its worldwide service, not the new American-focused service) and compare it to a parallel news agency in the Middle East. I might suggest Israel’s Haaretz, or perhaps the English version of Egypt’s state-run al-Ahram. Write up your observations in a four to five-page analysis.

Exams:  (42%) We will have three exams, two in the regular semester and a final. Each one will comprise 14% of the course grade. There will be an objective component to each exam, but the majority of each exam will be based on essays (essays which should demonstrate both a command of the historical information and the relevant concepts).

Quizzes:  (24%) There will be seven small quizzes. Two of them—the scheduled ones—will focus on your knowledge of the geography of the Middle East. The other five will monitor your command of the reading material; they may occur at any point in the semester. At semester's end, the lowest of these grades will be dropped automatically, leaving you with six quizzes factored into the course grade.

Movies: (12%) Across the semester on late Friday afternoons, we will show four movies produced within or about the Middle East. You are required to view at least two of these. And to write a three-page analysis of one of those two. Further specifics concerning this analysis will be forthcoming. Probable selections will include The Yacoubian Building, Lebanon, West Beirut, Offside, and/or others to be named.

Course Materials

Required Texts (available through the bookstore): Blackboard Readings

Lecture & Reading Schedule

This course is a mixture of lecture and discussion. Since these formats will be intermingled, you need to prepare properly by completing the assigned readings in advance. This is no less true for lecture than for discussion. For pages in the Milton-Edwards & Hinchcliffe text, they are listed under the designation MEH. The numbered documents come from the Gelvin text unless otherwise stipulated.



Readings and Assignments

15 Jan Intro to Course Go over Syllabus, Course Expectations
17 Jan Survey of Islamic History MME: 9–28
22 Jan

Religious Competitors

MME: 28–34
24 Jan Islam & the West Fromkin, 15-32
27 Jan WWI: The Turkish Quandary
Map Quiz
Fromkin, 33–76
29 Jan WWI: No Easy Solution Fromkin, 96–105, 119–123, 130–158
31 Jan WWI: The Arab Gambit Fromkin, 166-203, 218–228
3 Feb WWI: Zionism’s Chance? Fromkin, 253–301
5 Feb Discussion  
7 Feb WWI: Allied Advances Fromkin, 305–347
10 Feb WWI: Victory’s Harvest(?) Fromkin, 363–411
12 Feb 1919—1920 Fromkin, 413–462
14 Feb Snow Closure Fabulous!! Time to concentrate on Fromkin, review notes, begin preparing for the upcoming exam! O Glorious Study Day...
17 Feb Last Moves / First Moves Fromkin, 483–539, 558–567
19 Feb EXAM  
21 Feb Britain, France and the Mandate System
  • MME: 35–50
  • Side by Side: 1–25
  • 24 Feb Palestine: Arab, Jewish & European Agendas Side by Side: 26–67
    26 Feb WWII: The Wider Middle East Yapp, excerpts (Canvas)
    28 Feb WWII: Palestine Side by Side: 68–98/103
    3-7 March Spring Break  
    10 March Demise of the Mandate Side by Side: 98/103–107
    12 March Israel Comes into Being / The Naqba
  • MME: 73–84
  • Side by Side: 108–133
  • 14 March Despair vs. Renewal
  • Aburish, “The Making of a Palestinian” (Canvas)
  • Side by Side: 134–144/175
  • 17 March The Cold War Angle / The Suez Crisis
    Map Quiz
  • MME: 90–98
  • Side by Side: 144/175–183
  • 19 March Arab Politics & Nationalisms, 1956–67
  • MME: 108–116
  • Side by Side:
  • 21 March Radicalization: Politics Isaac, “The Ba‘ath of Syria and Iraq”
    24 March The 1967 War
  • Side by Side: 186–219
  • MME: 116–126
  • 26 March The PLO’s Course
  • Aburish, “Fatah and the Road to 1967” (Canvas)
  • Side by Side: (Pal.) 221–235
  • 28 March EXAM  
    31 March The 1973 War
  • MME: 126–138
  • Side by Side: 220/235–230/237
  • 2 Apr Egypt Breaks Ranks Side by Side: 230/237–252/243
    4 Apr Palestinians on their Own? Side by Side: 252/247–258/267
    7 Apr Lebanon’s Nightmare
  • Side by Side: 258/243-264/247
  • Al-Jazeera Comparison Paper Due
  • 9 Apr Pahlevi Iran MME: 139–149
    11 Apr The Shah’s Fall MME: 149–158
    14 Apr Khomeini in Charge
  • MME: 158top–162mid
  • Begin Zahra’s Paradise
  • 16 Apr The Iran-Iraq War MME: 170–182
    18 Apr Iran Rising? Finish with Zahra’s Paradise
    21 Apr Kuwait and the First Gulf War MME: 182–190
    23 Apr Palestinians:  Adrift, Angry, and . . . Side by Side: 268–289
    25 Apr Whither Next?
  • MME: 190–209
  • Side by Side: 290–320/315
  • Movie Paper Due
  • TBA Final Exam MME: TBA

    Contacting your Professor

    Dr. Steven Isaac
    Office: Ruffner 226-A
    Office Phone: 395-2225
    Office Hours: 11:00-12:00 daily
    Send me an E-mail

    Web Resources

    For maps, it's hard to beat the Perry-Castañeda Collection at the University of Texas